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Yaël Eisenstat | Former CIA Officer | Former Special Advisor to the White House |  Future of Democracy Fellow at Berggruen Institute
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Over the last two decades, Yaël Eisenstat has been a CIA Officer, a U.S. Diplomat, and a special advisor to Vice President Biden. Noticing that more and more Americans were having a hard time finding common ground, she switched her focus from counter-extremism overseas to the dangers back at home—starting with Silicon Valley. Eisenstat’s national security expertise landed her at Facebook, working inside the company playing a major role in one of the biggest threats to our democracy.  Today, Eisenstat helps us navigate the choppy intersection of ethics, technology, society, and politics to create a better future.

“We must strive to love our country more than we hate our neighbor.”

— Yaël Eisenstat

The breakdown of civil discourse is the biggest threat to our democracy, says Yaël Eisenstat. After leaving the White House for the world of corporate social responsibility, the former CIA analyst became increasingly concerned with how the Internet was contributing to political polarization, hate, and division. “It was easier for me to sit down and have open discussions with suspected terrorists, than it was for me to engage in any sort of political or hot-button discussion with Americans on the opposite side of the fence from me,” Eisenstat explains. Still believing that the Internet could be harnessed for good—connecting, rather than dividing us— she took a job as the Global Head of Elections Integrity Operations at Facebook. There, she dug into misinformation in political advertising, and came to the conclusion that Facebook needed to change its business model. “As long as Facebook prioritises profit over healthy discourse, it can’t avoid damaging democracies,” she says. Realizing she was not going to change the company from within, she left and has since been a public advocate for transparency and accountability in tech.

 

As a speaker, Eisenstat brings a wealth of experience, as well as a genuinely hopeful vision for the next era of technology. In her brilliant, strategic talks, she discusses everything from information warfare and the future of media, to political and social inequality, international affairs, and national security. Following a period as a Visiting Fellow at Cornell Tech's Digital Life Initiative, Eisenstat is now the Future of Democracy Fellow at Berggruen Institute. There, she will focus on what open, democratic debate looks like in the digital world, and how we can change the incentives that helped social media rise to dominance in our public spaces—replacing them with democratic principles.

 

Once named one of Forbes  “40 Women to Watch Over 40,”  Eisenstat founded and runs Kilele Global: a consulting firm working with mission-driven organizations to tackle our most complex global challenges. She is also a Global Policy Adviser at the Center for Humane Technology and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Eisenstat regularly provides context and analysis on national security, political, and foreign affairs in the media. She has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, and WIRED, and has appeared on CNN, BBC World News, CBS News, and C-SPAN. Eisenstat earned an M.A. in International Affairs from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

 

Testimonials

“The Surrey Board of Trade was honored to present Yaël Eisenstat to our Surrey Women in Business Awards audience. Her speech was fascinating as I and the audience listened to all of her career accomplishments. When she said the words about knowing your worth and value no matter what, that resonated with me and the audience. The message about standing up for what you believe in even if it means you have to make difficult choices also resonated. Yaël was amazing!”

Surrey Board of Trade

Speech Topics

Leadership
Grit and Grace Women Leading in Male-Dominated Worlds
Too often, women in leadership feel pressure to hide their emotions at work for fear of being labelled hysterial or unfit to lead. But Yaël Eisenstat, a former intelligence officer who now advocates for transparency in tech, reveals how vulnerability can actually be a superpower for women in positions of power. You don’t have to be “one of the boys” to lead the boys, she says.
 
In this inspiring talk, Eisenstat shares her journey through some high-pressure roles, both at home and abroad, where she was often the only woman at the table. From the CIA, to countering extremism overseas, advising on national security issues at the White House, and tackling the threat of elections integrity at Facebook, she shares lessons on how to balance the grit and the grace of being a woman leader in traditionally male-dominated spaces. Eisenstat speaks of being knocked down and getting back up; of successes and disappointments she encountered along the way; and of the compromises she has made to balance succeeding in a man’s world with maintaining her own sense of self. As one of the so-called “Cassandras” of the past decade, who warned of so many of the dangers that we now know to be true, Eisenstat has made a vow to continue speaking out, taking up space, and delivering the work. This presentation, designed to help empower women in leadership, does just that.
Politics & Society
With Great Power Comes...No Responsibility? Who is Responsible for the Real-World Consequences of Tech?
The breakdown of civil discourse is more than just the loss of polite society—it’s a genuine threat to our national security. As a former intelligence officer and U.S. diplomat, Yaël Eisenstat felt alarmed by the growing social and political rifts happening throughout America. Even more concerning? The way the Internet, and social media, was contributing to this divide. Eisenstat grappled with the question of who was responsible for the real-world consequences of tech, particularly as it impacted our democracy. With the danger at home steadily rising, she believed her experience in the public sector could help fill a gap in Silicon Valley’s talent pool—and chip away at the ways tech enabled polarization and election hacking. She took a job as the Global Head of Elections Integrity Operations at Facebook, working inside a company she felt played a major role in threatening democracy.
 
In a talk that is both eye-opening and essential, Eisenstat shares the lessons she learned from her time in the national security world and at Facebook, her perspective on government’s role in regulating tech, and finally, ideas on how all of us can contribute to the united America we want to build.